What College Admissions Committees Are Really Looking For

The absolute number one factor in college admission is a rigorous high school curriculum according to a recent survey reviewed in the above-titled article. This year's survey of independent college counselors resulted in a somewhat different list for the top criteria used by college admissions offices, the top three being:

1.      Challenging curriculum

2.      Grades/GPA

3.      Standardized test scores 

Understandably, colleges want to make sure that students are up to the challenge of that school's academics. "It is far better to take on a challenge, show some grit, and if necessary, earn a slightly lower grade. Nowadays, a transcript with easy courses and straight A’s is not well regraded at competitive colleges," the article asserts.

Number 4 on the list, comprised by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), is the essay, specifically the personal essay.  Its purpose is to give admissions readers an idea of "who you are, what shaped you, and what makes you tick." Regardless of the subject, an essay becomes compelling through rich details and anecdotes and most importantly, an authentic voice. It doesn't matter what the student writes about as long as it's important to him/her.

Number 6 are strong teacher and counselor recommendation letters.  Indeed, these have become more important in the admissions process and students can actually enhance teacher letters by providing them with more information.

Ability to Pay

Interestingly, the IECA report notes two new factors in its ranking: the family's ability to pay at number 7; and a student's character and values at number 12.  It shouldn't come as any surprise that colleges and universities will keep an eye on the bottom line despite their rhetoric about "holistic reviews" and "need blind" admissions.

Character and values are reflected in the student's resume from which colleges learn how actively engaged the student is in school community, service and extra-curricular activities.  Colleges pay particular attention to unique skills, talents, and backgrounds.  Often schools will also look at how a student's values match those of the institution.